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How to cope with mean people without losing your happiness

Updated on December 31, 2013

Krista was having a good, productive day as a cashier at a drug store located in a wealthy part of town. Known for her smiling, cooperative presence, she approached each customer with the same open, helpful attitude. Then in walked Mrs. Crump. An elderly widow whose children avoided her at all costs due to her hateful personality, she had few people to vent on. So when she made her monthly visit to the pharmacist, it was with a dark pleasure that she purposefully picked on Krista as she paid for her meds. "You made a mistake. You owe me seventeen more cents! Can't you add? You're supposed to be able to do that much, young lady!" She hissed and glared at Krista until the young cashier was stammering, sweating and simply couldn't make sense of the coins in the wrinkled hand of her customer. Several people waiting in line started rolling their eyes and looked on impatiently. This humiliating moment ended with Mrs. Crump insisting on the manager being called to 'rectify this shameful situation.' Krista's day was ruined. Mrs. Crump, on the other hand left feeling strangely satisfied.

The mean person had won.

What Mrs. Crump did not know was that Krista also has learning disabilities which make math difficult, but as long as the register helps she can manage 95% of the time. Krista is aware of her shortcoming and being embarrassed publicly about it only reminded her of it. Mrs. Crump's hateful attitude did more than superficial damage.

How are we supposed to react when the Crumps of the world decide to put us in our place or dump their junk in our laps to ease their own miserable pain?

Many businesses offer seminars for employees who deal with people that make it their goal to be impossible. But what about the rest of us, especially the Krista's of the world whose jobs are specifically geared toward the public, but who don't get professional training?

Here are some simple, effective tools to keep your sanity while dealing with mean people in the work place.

Train yourself to understand it really isn't about you (most of the time).

This may seem cliché to you, but in reality, it's one of the hardest disciplines to develop. The above example touches on this truth. Mrs. Crump is a miserable person. No one wants to be around her, not even her own children! How do you think this makes her feel? She feels angry, resentful and lonely. She's also busting with self-hatred and rage but has no one to dump it on, until she sees Krista who has no choice but to endure her tirade.

'Crumps' are just unhappy. Unhappy people cannot give anything but unhappiness. In addition, Crumps are so consumed by their misery, they have lost the ability to see or even care how their words and behavior affect their victims. They're selfish.

To understand this is to have a leg up on anyone who intends to dump on you. It is not about you. It's about their own pain and self-loathing.

Once you truly believe this, you can see things much more clearly. The next time a Crump begins railing on you, notice their demeanor. Observe their sad, angry eyes. They were unhappy before they encountered you and they'll be unhappy long after they leave. You on the other hand, can absorb their hateful, impatient words with less pain, because you know they're coming from a terrible, lonely place that has nothing to do with you. Once you see this in others, you'll have more patience and calm in dealing with them.

Sometimes it is about you. But that's their problem.

Let's face it, some people actually believe they are better than you. Whether it's the way they were raised, cultural differences or just arrogance, there are those who are convinced they have the right to treat you like a second class citizen. They're wrong, of course, but logic isn't important here. It's more about income levels, titles, what zip code they live in, etc. In other words, shallowness.

Knowing that mean people like to keep others under their thumb is also a weapon for you. It may look like it's about you, but upon closer inspection, it's really about them keeping themselves feeling powerful. Putting you down is just one way of doing that.

When you sense this is happening, take one extra second to breathe and get your thoughts together. Remind yourself that it will cost you nothing to make this person feel important for a few minutes and by doing so, even though it seems you're giving in to their rants, it's really just taking the air out of a potentially combustible situation. You win.

Sometimes mean people are right. Learn from it.

Krista was terribly upset because Mrs. Crump was right; she had made a mistake in giving change back. She could have resolved the situation fairly easily if she was so terrified of judgment from customers and her manager. Unfortunately, Krista will have to get thicker skinned. She'll have to learn how to think under pressure. For her, math is a problem. If you have a shortcoming that is causing you to come up short on your job, you will benefit from honing in on it and improving as much as you possibly can. In other words, don't give the Crumps an opportunity to have a field day with you. There's few more awful moments in life than when we know that the mean person is right. Don't give them that opportunity!

Even mean people have the right to be heard.

It may sound like something out of a Communications 101 class, but it's true: everyone wants to be heard. When a customer starts complaining, the first thing out of your mouth ought to be confirmation that you understand what they are upset about.

"I hear what you're saying, Mrs. Crump." Or "I understand why you're upset." Don't elaborate or argue, even if they're dead wrong. You won't win. Just assure them that you are clear on what they want. Then do your best to rectify the problem. Most dissatisfied customers aren't mean people, they're just frustrated. By smiling and letting them know you are aware of the problem and working to fix it, most people will calm down.

What are you projecting?

If you are smiling, your body language is relaxed and non-threatening, people will be more calm. If you're confrontational, tense or scared, others pick up on your discomfort and will either want to fight or worse, toy with you because they think they can. Be polite, professional and calm. When things feel out of control, call your boss. Then watch how they handle the problem! Learn from those who are ahead of you.

Summary

There will always be mean, unreasonable people in the world. But by remembering these simple truths, they don't have to ruin your day when they walk through the door.

  • Most mean people are miserable inside and are looking for someone to dump their anger on.
  • You are not your job. If someone treats you badly, most likely it's because they need to feel superior. If they knew you, they'd treat you completely differently.
  • If a person turns mean on you because you are in the wrong, work on your skills to eliminate such opportunities for humiliation.
  • When a situation starts to spiral, take a second to calm down (breath) and observe what's really going on.
  • If possible, let the customer feel like she's won, as long as it doesn't cause you to do anything against policy.
  • Remind yourself that every negative encounter you have is an opportunity to grow a thicker skin. In doing so, each one will have a smaller effect on you.
  • Maintain a calm, friendly and professional demeanor. To cave into acting like your mean customer will only fuel a bad situation.
  • If all else fails, call a manager and watch how they deal with the problem.
  • Turn each negative experience into a learning opportunity.

If you commit to incorporating these thoughts into your work day, fewer of them will be ruined by mean people. Just remember, win or lose, they still have to live with themselves. Who would you rather be?

Jeanette Menter is the author of, "You're Not Crazy-You're Codependent"



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    • profile image

      Tess 2 years ago

      Wow, your post makes mine look feeelb. More power to you!

    • Sri T profile image

      Sri T (the mystic) 4 years ago

      Great advice. Another option is detachment. By remaining calm in ones own energy, freedom is possible. Each person can only feel their own emotions. A person must also love who they are regardless of everyone's opinions.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Dealing with angry customers is a difficult experience, as well as co-workers or relatives that have similar issues. It is easy for me to internalize what is happening and to think that it is my fault. Developing a "thick skin" for me means having to turn off part of my heart toward these people, and not allowing them to affect my own sense of self-worth. Seeing it as their problem rather than mine is also helpful, and allows me to reflect what they are feeling back to them for them to handle rather than me thinking that I am responsible for their feelings.